TORONTO - And, there goes the undefeated season.
After two days of offensive fireworks and pitching elan the Minnesota Twins left town Sunday with a 4-3 victory to close out the season’s opening weekend.
But while the game was lost, the Blue Jays earned respect from a robust, often exhuberant, crowd that hit a cushy 110,683 three-day total.
“To play in front of a home crowd such as this validates what the players felt. It’s something we envisioned, to gain that trust. Hopefully we’re doing just that,” said manager John Farrell, after a spirited effort fell just 90 feet short.
Toronto never led, unless you count resilience and spirit — and that doesn’t count in the standings. They stranded 10 runners and the Twins were constantly threatening to blow the game open. It just never happened with starter Brett Cecil and five relievers dodging more flak then a hen-pecked husband.
Danny Valencia gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead in the third — the first homer allowed by Toronto. They got two more in the fifth as Cecil battled his frustrations and his location.
“I just have to keep the ball down ... get the ball up guys are going to tag it,” Cecil said of a fifth inning in which Minnesota sent up eight hitters. There were five hits. Only some tidy defence by Travis Snider kept it respectable — two runs crossing for a 3-1 deficit.
On the upside, Cecil’s velocity — although he didn’t show much — wasn’t an issue (as it had been this spring) manager John Farrell said.
“He threw more two seamers than four and that was by design ... so you might not have seen the 89-90s (mph). This is a good fastball-hitting team and we tried to get as much action down in the zone as possible using his two seamer. He started to elevate the ball in the fifth and they started to bunch some hits and that’s why we went to the bullpen.
A Denard Span homer put the Twins ahead 4-2 in the top of the ninth, setting up an electrifying finish. Toronto had the winning run at second before closer Joe Nathan got Adam Lind to tap to first base. Snider started the fun beating out an infield single and eventually scored. J.P. Arencibia crushed a ball that had “tie game” labelled on it, but Delmon Young chased it down at the fence. “It cut just enough to get off the barrell of my bat and that’s what that pitch does. It was unfortunate,” said Arencibia, just a few feet shy of his third homer in three games.
The Twins still had to sweat out Jose Bautista. He worked an eight-pitch walk after being down 0-2 to load the bases. “He has such a competitive spirit in the batters’ box ... he fought back into the count. He’s smart enough to know there’s a base open and they don’t have to challenge him. And, here we are sitting with the winning run at second,” Farrell said.
But, this time, no magic finish. “We put good swings on pitches the entire series,” Farrell said. “We had a great opportunity sitting in front of us in the ninth. Not an easy loss but there’s belief.”
And, from the lineups at the ticket windows this weekend, that belief seems to extend beyond the field.
TOSSING & TURNING
Snider admitted it may have been his best throw ever. “I don’t know I’ve had many other throws carry like that,” the left fielder said after catching Danny Valencia trying to score from second on Matt Tolbert’s single.
The play actually saved two runs because the third out came when Justin Morneau sent a liner screeching into left field with the bases loaded. If Snider doesn’t make that play, Morneau’s liner turns into a sacrifice fly and Minnesota is up 5-1 and all that late-inning excitement never happens.
“We know the Twins are a two-base club. Since I’ve come into the league they’ve taken advantage of me in the past, said Snider of playing the ball on the hop. “I wanted to make sure I was prepared for that guy to take the extra base.”
ADVENTURES WITH EDWIN
Welcome to Edwin Encarnacion’s bizarro world. Balls just do weird things whenever the Toronto third baseman is involved. He led the club in errors last year and now has three in two games this year.
He also ended up getting on base twice — curiously both times on errors by the Twins.
He pulled Adam Lind off the bag with a throw in the fourth on Michael Cuddyer’s routine grounder. In the eighth, Valencia lined a ball off his glove that went for two bases.
“Neither one hurt us,” Farrell said. Maybe, but Encarnacion didn’t look too happy and from the sounds of the braying in the stands neither did the fans. Could get ugly here.
Juan Rivera was moved up to hit second in the lineup because of his record against starter Nick Blackburn. He came into the game 5-for-15 and he had a first inning single — but then went 0-for-2 including a double play. Against reliever Matt Capps in the seventh, he tapped back to the mound stranding runners at second and third ... Reliever Marc Rzepczynski only faced three batters but he put a load of hurt on the Twins. Two broken bats (Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer) and he hit Jason Kubel.